16 February 2021

What I Wish I Had Known Before Beginning My Master's

By: Ayat Kanaan

I thought I was prepared. I assumed that research and constructing the best study plan would be all I needed to be well equipped for my Master’s in Immunology at King’s College London. After all, it took me an entire year to narrow down locations, compare every university, and apply to scholarships. Little did I know this year would be the most testing of all.
When I was at Al-Quds Bard College, I was fortunate enough to be part of an innovative project about breast cancer with Dr. Zaidoun Salah. Although I had been a Biology major with a minor in Chemistry since 2013, going to a lab every day rejuvenated my love for Biology. This led me to volunteer at laboratories after graduation, and that was when I was introduced to Immunology. Studying how the immune system plays a crucial role in drug therapy illuminated potential career paths. Since I knew that an MSc degree would be a focused and specialized form of training, I decided that would be my next step.
To get there, I underwent a rigorous application process consisting of applications for both the scholarships and the universities. One must have support in this process. I was grateful for AQB professors such as Dr. Mahmoud Khalid and Dr. Zaidoun Salah for always being available to constantly edit recommendation letters. The process also included acquiring transcripts, writing personal statements, answering prompts, and attending interviews. I kept track by making lists within lists. I was grateful to end up being a joint Said Foundation and Chevening scholar. Once everything was coordinated, I prepared for take-off.

Before I left for London, I once again depended on making lists to organize information about the city, the food, the university, the courses, and the weather. Even so, nothing prepares you. Your MSc, regardless of what subject it is in, will challenge you. You will feel like a fish out of water and you might have a few missteps. No matter how many maps I perused, I still got on a few wrong trains. However, I was relieved that with each passing week, I settled into a steady routine. I found my favorite study spots, became acquainted with different teaching styles, and even started avoiding morning traffic. Then, COVID-19 hit.
I was told that every MSc experience is different but it is safe to say that every student felt the same loss this year. Whether it was stopping classes, preventing mobility, or terminating research, students everywhere had to re-adjust due to the pandemic. On the other hand, we gained the element of time. I was able to re-evaluate and reconnect. Being tugged away from everything I was familiar with provided me with clarity. Once we were forced to stop our research in the labs, we all accommodated change. Online meetings and email check-ins became the norm. We created our dissertations remotely and learned the value of independence.
Perhaps I would have been more prepared if I had my current knowledge about the city, the university, or the upcoming pandemic. However, this is what I wish I knew: I wish I knew to not attempt to control or predict my experience. I have learned to love the discomfort of uncertainty. One thing I am sure of is that my MSc in Immunology displayed its importance through its relevance in the present state of the world. I am currently writing for scientific magazines and pursuing my career in the pharmaceutical industry that specializes in immunotherapies. I aspire to spread awareness on relevant research through my writing and examine how immunology is a distinct thread to other fields in Biology such as cancer..